Barcamp Nashville Proved to Me That Xers and Yers Want Structure

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Notice: What you are about to read could be considered a rant.

I had a lot of fun teasing the BarCamp Nashville organizers.  I absolutely had no idea what to expect from the event. I watched the BarCamp Austin video, read the website and the blog.  It wasn’t until the speakers list was released that I had a thought of what to expect. Turns out, having a speakers list is a no-no for Barcamps.

Here’s what appealed to me (and apparently at least one other attendee/speaker.)

I saw a lot of talk about “no agendas” “blank sheets of paper on the wall” and “getting together to brainstorm.”

I debated not going. It was obvious that I was going to be the oldest person there.  Older by decades, not by just a few years. Older than some of the barcampers dads.  Not old enough to be anyone’s grandfather, thank goodness.

What I found was 400 Xers and Yers.  For background, what I am writing about needs this qualifier about generalizations and stereotypes.

 Warning:I am going to refer to some “generational theory” in this post. This theory is replete with generalizations and stereotypes of the members of each generation, while in reality there are some blurred lines between different generations. Some Boomers act and think more like Gen Xers, some Xers act and think more like Millennials (or Gen Yers), and some Gen Xers act and think more like Boomers.

Strauss and Howe define the four most recent generations as the Boomers (1943-1960), Gen X (1961-1981), Millennial Gen Y (1982-2003)

I’m not putting forth some theory here, that’s too academic, but I think I can offer a valid observation that frankly surprised me about these two groups.

Here’s what I observed.

Gen Xers and Gen Yers want structure

I’ve been going to seminars, conferences, meetings, whatever, for 37 years. Invariably it’s a classroom setting with somebody standing behind a lectern telling the audience what they should be doing. If you don’t know the routine it starts with the advance publicity explaining why this person is qualified to tell us what to do and the topic of the speech. Then you go to the conference and find out that the topic has been changed, then you attend the session and find out it’s been changed again.  The speaker will say it’s to be a two way conversation, s/he doesn’t have all the answers.  “Let’s make this a discussion.”  55 minutes into the one hour session, they end their monologue and ask if there are any questions.

I always come home frustrated because I don’t like being lectured to.  Do you know anyone that does?

I thought Barcamp Nashville would be a radical departure from this routine.  Barcamp.org gave me a good reason to think this.

  • Be ready to participate – come with an idea for a session you can lead. You don’t have to be an expert at your topic; as long as it’s not too specific, there’ll probably be someone else present who can help you out. You can also contribute to the conversation during a session. This is a great way to participate, since it spreads knowledge from everyone, instead of just the leader.

First indication that Xers and Yers want structure:

Barcamp Nashville was held in a big old bar – a cool joint – the Exit/In. OK, cool factor, check. Uh oh, what’s this? The folding chairs are set up in rows? It’s dark like a performance venue should be. But the massive podium is on the stage four feet above the rest of us, and it has a spot light focused on it.

Second indication that Xers and Yers want structure:

There was a formal program schedule that the organizers insisted be adhered to as closely as possible. Most of the speakers – the local people who volunteered on a Saturday – were given twenty minutes.  This killed me: there was a guy down front that was giving cues to the speakers.

Third indication of structure:

After each session when the Q & A started, one of the organizers had hand mic and ran around to make sure the questioner didn’t move from their seat.

Fourth indication of needed structure:

There was a dinner break which amounted to a “forced” interaction period.

Are you following me here?

Except….that’s NOT what BarCamp Nashville was. I don’t know if it’s because they didn’t trust us to be geeky enough for Freeform or if by the time something like BarCamp reaches the Bible Belt we have to force it into the standard PowerPoint-A-Rama that we’ve all come to know from church, sales meetings and overly dull e-commerce pitches.

(Katherine Coble again)

Brittney Gilbert was a local Nashville blogger who went to work for WKRN as a paid blogger. She called it being professional, I call it being paid. Anyway, she quit because she got scared when the trolls got to personal. So she quit.

She needed structure, the safety of anonymity. Try Googling Brittney Gilbert and see how private she is since she quit and started another blog.

I mistakenly thought the article was penned by an unnamed writer. It was, instead, written ho is now #1 with a bullet on my Shit List. Okay, not really, I don’t have a Shit List, because if I did it would be too long.

Don’t dish it if you can’t take it.

One of the best indications of Xers and Yers needing structure came during the Q & A after one of the two keynote speakers, Penelope Trunk. She has it nailed. If you’re starting your career, read what she has to say and then live it.

I had read earlier about some controversy created by Penelope Trunk at the Blogher.org convention. So I asked the question: “what happened at Blogher?” She said she didn’t know what I was talking about. A person in the audience tried to explain but the mic guy just moved on to the next questioner.

Turns out, she was the cause of some controversy at BlogHer and even apologized to a blogger. Here’s what she said in the comments: Hi, Lindsay. I’m sorry that I offended so many people that day.

Since my question didn’t fit the topic of her speech, the Xer moved on and we missed out on some insights that would have been very interesting.  The Brazen Careerist vs. The Mommy Blogger

She talked about the ten myths of the workplace.  (This link says nine, but she apparently added a tenth in the past few months.)

One of the questions from the audience dealt with benefits.  Since mic guy wouldn’t go up a flight of stairs so we could hear the question, Trunk thought he was asking about pensions, and responded that working one place for fifteen years wouldn’t get you much more than a paycheck. Then she clarified that the question was about health care.

She is a freelance blogger and speaker. She earns her family’s income from blogging. She has two special needs children and a husband with a pre-existing condition. She said, they are practically uninsurable and her health insurance costs over $30,000 per year.

She said it can be done. The questioner said he was a freelancer and that he disagreed.

But he wanted the structure.

Half the room was marketing people. Usually I think of marketing people as having the propensity to try to avoid structure. They need to be creative in their thinking. The rest of the room I guess were bloggers, programmers, “digerati” of Nashville (is that a oxymoron?)

Of all the places I expected to find minimal structure for a gathering of like minded individuals, it would be at Barcamp Nashville. Instead I found just another seminar.

Disclaimer: this no reflection on the speakers unless mentioned specifically. tag: barcampnashville

I now return you to our regular scheduled “smart-assery.”

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Comments

Barcamp Nashville Proved to Me That Xers and Yers Want Structure — 32 Comments

  1. Well, that answers the question of “Who’s that guy that asked about BlogHer?” From my perspective, and likely from that of the mic guy, it just wasn’t really a relevant question and seemed more sensationalistic than anything. That’s just how it seemed to me. But in a similar vien, what Trunk was speaking about didn’t really seem all that relevant given the agenda of the day. It was her boilerplate speech, though despite that, I found it interesting if not repetitive since I’d already read her website.

    I agree on the structure part. I’m a marketer and find that podiums and stages and microphones aren’t the best tools for encouraging dialogue. And I’m not sure if what speaker content or apathy or the heat, but the level of participation from the audience was embarassingly poor. I almost wish there’d been a special bonus gift for most questions asked at the end of the night because I would have won. Except that I took off after Trunk because 10 hours in an oven is my limit. I started to smell like someone’s dinner.

  2. hey, it was good to meet you yesterday (the husband of the little duo next to you for much of the day). i’d agree on the structure, but could much of this be in part due to xers (and yers, cause i know the youth events i put on have structure to them) having to adapt to a continuing culture. plus, we all have a need for safety, that is basic from mazlows hierarchy of needs. safety comes from structure.

    i mentioned this one kat’s blog which you link too. a true barcamp, as i heard it to be in the welcome message, would be an open source event and would have brought out a smaller yet more high functioning group of people.

    i have to run, but i will be back. shalom, -g

  3. oh, i remember mrs. trunk’s answer to your question as more of a “what do you think happened at blogher?” that is what i heard.

  4. I have never heard of Penelope Trunk and after reading a few of her posts I never want to hear from her again. Look at these opening lines on 5 of her posts.

    “When I was playing professional beach volleyball
    Last week I was on a radio show
    I wrote an article for Wired,
    When I was a kid, there was money everywhere.
    Yesterday I was interviewed on The Morning Blend.”

    “Look at me, look at me”

    Then look at her generalized stereotyped statements about boomers.

    “Do the people who write the press releases about baby boomer retirement not understand that this is the most overleveraged generation in history and they will work till the day they die?
    I can see how 40 years ago, when it was still legal to ask a woman what her husband thought of her career, it would’ve been bad to date coworkers. Back then, women felt powerless in the workplace.

    Well Miss “talk for the sake of hearing your own voice”, I have about 10 close friends over 55 and we have all known each other for at least 20 years. Only 1 of us has what would be considered a full time job and he owns the company. The rest of us travel, play golf, blog (well try), and basically do whatever we want when we want. By far the largest net worth of us all is a female. Maybe Penny would like to join her so she can interview her next month when she (well really her crew) takes her little 120 foot dinghy on a re-positioning trip to Nassau for the winter. I can tell you this woman was the antithesis of powerless as she built her career from when she started as a bank teller in 1965. Actually, knowing my friend, she’d probably throw Penny overboard before the boat got past the first channel marker.

    Ahhh, now I feel better.

  5. “She needed structure, the safety of anonymity. Try Googling Brittney Gilbert and see how private she is since she quit and started another blog.”

    What are you talking about? I never said I needed the safety of anonymity. Or is that just your perception? Sorry, but your segment here about me makes almost no sense.

    Also, your question about BlogHer seemed really rude and not on topic.

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  7. Hi, there!

    I’m the person in the audience who TRIED to answer your BlogHer question, without benefit of microphonage.

    That one moment in time sort of summed up BarCamp for me. Well, that and the “VIP Bus”.

    Brittney said your question seemed rude. I think maybe it seemed rude because it was a “BarCamp” type of question that was asked in a decidedly NON “BarCamp” situation. As you’ve pointed out from my blog, I don’t feel that yesterday was truly BarCamp.

    I think there are several reasons for that, but primarily I think it was the clash of corporate sponsorship with opensource dialogue.

    I don’t necessarily think it was a generational thing. I’m 37 years old–technically “x”–and wasn’t craving the structure.

  8. Kat and I actually talked yesterday about BarCamp about how we both wished it were less structured and provided more opportunity for spontaneous interactions. I’m 28. I do think you’re rather misrepresenting Brittney’s words and why she left NiT, but she’s already pointed that out.

  9. Dangit, I walked out of the Penelope Trunk presentation to talk to someone and I never got to meet you. Perhaps next time. Sigh.

  10. Twitter comments about some points made in post:

    davedelaney: please respect the speakers and keep it down while they’re presenting. Thanks guys. 02:13 PM August 18, 2007 from web

    davedelaney: looking at the BarCamp Nashville schedule? We’re running about 20 mins. behind. Just an FYI. Brittney Gilbert next up afte …

    kellystewart: there are now printed schedules at the bar and at registration desk!

  11. @Lesley Wow! Was that question really being asked? Kewl. Or was the question: Who’s that asshole? 🙂 LOK about being somebody’s dinner, I think I smelled like somebody’s garbage from four days ago. Phew!
    @Gavin, no her response was a shrug and “I don’t know.” She dodged it which is her perogative.
    @Brittney: you just made my point about how barcamp wasn’t really. There should be no “off topic.” I’d never heard of you before barcamp, so why should I keep up?
    @Katherine! Thanks for trying to answer. I heard “mommyblogging” and that was a big help. My post was full of generalizations and stereotyping as I said early on.
    @Rachel: Perhaps if enough people blog about the need for more interaction it will happen.
    @Ivy: Maybe next time.

  12. @Lesley: I meant LOL, but what would be good for LOK? Laughing Out of Kindness??? Wouldn’t apply in this case, because LOK is like doing your “boss told lame joke laugh.”

  13. Hey 60,

    Nice rant. Although I didn’t create the Sun or the Exit/In’s weak A/C, I apologize for the heat, I knew that would kill us. Seriously.

    On the topic of structure, we wrestled with that one. And I think we did trust you guys to have a great session with unconference style. You did in fact attend a barcamp, I think the fact that whurley (http://www.whurley.com/) a BarCamp staple, flew out from Austin and said it was the best BarCamp he’d attended in a long time says it is a BarCamp. In fact, BarCamp is whatever the hell we want it to be cause we busted our ass for 3 months unpaid (no I don’t work for Emma anymore) to throw it.

    We wanted to reward Nashville for not being apathetic and showing up because aside from the blogger community, getting the marketing guys, and tech guys and design guys (who belong at BarCamp too) to show up in Nashville is a challenge. So yeah, got speakers, got sponsors, tried to reward you in some way for showing. The VIP bus even I could have done without since I only crashed in it at the very end…

    I appreciate what you’re saying, and on the west coast that kind of BarCamp would have rocked out with gen x and y being totally cool with no structure and schwag, but I’ve been doing meetups and user groups here in Nashville for 6 years and never had more than 35 people attend shit. Considering most peeps here signed up to show in the last two weeks, and we cracked 500 registered, I think we did a damn good job of at least bringing us all together, even if you didn’t like it.

    And I love how no one says anything about Cafe Coco, you know where you could do what the hell you wanted and it was cool as an autumn breeze. The blogosphere loves the negative. I swear, I make one comment and realize why I don’t get too deep in the blogosphere. Energy Drain…..

  14. I take back the part about the blogosphere… in fact, it’s the very reason that I should blog more. Thanks 60.

    Quick question, did you experience Cafe CoCo, or did you just hang in the Exit/In? If you did hang in CoCo, what did you think of that?

  15. @Marcus: I was up there to hear Paul Van Hoesen and horned in on his time. I got carried away because he was talking about something I think is very important: what is the model for broadband distribution in the U.S. going to be? http://tinyurl.com/2pee4r

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  17. Hey 60,

    Marcus, I know you’re responding primarily to GL60 here, but since he is kind of dovetailing into my post, I’d kind of like to put my two cents in here. I would over at my place also, but since the dialogue is happening here, I’ll keep it here.

    Nice rant. Although I didn’t create the Sun or the Exit/In’s weak A/C, I apologize for the heat, I knew that would kill us. Seriously.

    Anyone who’s ever thrown a wedding or a party or a sales conference knows that things will go wrong. The dude with the cake will show up late or the power will be out in Meeting Room C or the hotel will forget the afternoon snack service. It’s the #1 law of organising things. I don’t know that anyone blames you guys for the heat. If anything I do think that it bonded those of us who were there because it was sort of like “look at what we’ve all pulled through together!”

    Yes, there were a few who were NOT fans of the heat (see Aunt B.’s posts on the topic) but overall I don’t think it ruined it for the majority of us. Well, for me anyway.

    On the topic of structure, we wrestled with that one. And I think we did trust you guys to have a great session with unconference style.

    Where, though? Because everything was very lectern/podium/screen oriented. Then again, maybe that’s not all on you organisers. I spoke at Coco and purposely didn’t have a Powerpoint. As I said at the opener of our talk, “I create Powerpoints for a living, so we’re not gonna do that today.”

    I do think that many people are conditioned to have a slide presentation when they give a talk–it’s almost like a crutch to aid with the pain of public speaking. I saw at least a half-dozen ppt yesterday, and the only one who seemed to truly grok the medium and make it work was Dr. Owens. (The caveat here is that I was in the back of the room for Mitch Joel’s and didn’t actually SEE his, so he may have worked it, too.)

    So maybe the whole “I gotta speak so I gotta have a slide show” thing was as much a misunderstanding on the part of us speakers as it was a condition of the BCN I paradigm.

    You did in fact attend a barcamp, I think the fact that whurley (http://www.whurley.com/) a BarCamp staple, flew out from Austin and said it was the best BarCamp he’d attended in a long time says it is a BarCamp. In fact, BarCamp is whatever the hell we want it to be cause we busted our ass for 3 months unpaid (no I don’t work for Emma anymore) to throw it.

    As I said over at my place, I know frak-all about BarCamp–except from the videos of previous and the things I’ve read. So I had my expectations fed by those videos. I fully admit that I didn’t know quite what to expect. And I do appreciate all the work you guys put into this.

    We wanted to reward Nashville for not being apathetic and showing up because aside from the blogger community, getting the marketing guys, and tech guys and design guys (who belong at BarCamp too) to show up in Nashville is a challenge.

    I kind of think it’s funny that you’ll admit we bloggers are an eager, involved bunch and then bitch us out for negativity. (Although I guess you did take your bitchout back, so that’s cool, too.) I tried very hard in my space to not be just rolling with the negative, but to explain constructively what I had expected and how the BCN I differed from my expectations. To be honest, I probably would not have minded the rest if it hadn’t have been for that accursed bus and Allison’s repeated mentions of it on Twitter and NiT.

    Here we were, being asked to come out to this thing as valued contributors, etc. And then there was that big-a$$ environmental drain of a bus that just SCREAMED “We’re better than YOU!” So while the rest of us roasted inside the Exit/In (and Coco, which heated up with all the talky bodies after bit…) those of us following on Twitter and/or NiT got to read about all the Really Special People hanging with Allison on the VIP bus with all the free beer, Wii contests and supercool air.

    That was way uncool, in my opinion.

    So yeah, got speakers, got sponsors, tried to reward you in some way for showing. The VIP bus even I could have done without since I only crashed in it at the very end…

    I guess I’ve already vented my stupid a$$ about the bus enough now.

    I said over at my place, and I want to repeat it here–and anywhere else necessary–that I totally admire and appreciate the massive effort you guys put into this one. In fact, I’ll go one better and say that I’m in for helping with the next one. And I know there will be a next one.

    I appreciate what you’re saying, and on the west coast that kind of BarCamp would have rocked out with gen x and y being totally cool with no structure and schwag, but I’ve been doing meetups and user groups here in Nashville for 6 years and never had more than 35 people attend shit.

    I know I for one signed up when I heard it explained by other people (Hammock, Wage, Miller, Grantham) as being a freeform unconference. Most of us were nervous about it because the various sponsors made it seem like Southern Women’s Show For Tech Geeks, but then crunched to come when we realised it was freeform. Then to have it be not freeform was kind of an odd twist. That’s why I may seem ‘negative’.

    Considering most peeps here signed up to show in the last two weeks, and we cracked 500 registered, I think we did a damn good job of at least bringing us all together, even if you didn’t like it.

    Yeah. No offence, but I watched the crowd dwindle after the swag bags got handed out. You can blame the heat, and that may be a factor. But, really, once they got their hands on the t-shirts, hats, and Griffin gear, a lot of that 500 beat pavement. So I question the value of having them there anyhow. They were never about the participation, the brainstorming, the stuff of BarCamp. They came for the swag.

    And I love how no one says anything about Cafe Coco, you know where you could do what the hell you wanted

    Except, you couldn’t. I spoke at Coco. We had timekeepers over there same is in the big room at Exit/In.

    and it was cool as an autumn breeze.

    Except it wasn’t. By the time you got all the people in there for the talks, it was right damned toasty.

    The blogosphere loves the negative. I swear, I make one comment and realize why I don’t get too deep in the blogosphere.

    I know you took this back, and I know you’re rightfully cranky after having all your hard work seem unappreciated by a bunch of greedy fat fools within 24 hours. So I’m cutting you some slack. But you begged and pleaded for this blogosphere to come out. You sold this event TO the blogosphere. It was discussed primarily in the blogosphere. And since you missed my talk at Coco, I’ll lay some of it out for you right here and now.

    I love how corporate folks think the “blogosphere” is the greatest thing since sliced bread when they want to promote their stuff, but once the B’sphere talks back, it’s all about “You frakkin’ ungrateful bitches don’t know how little you really mean to us. You should be pleased we even acknowledge you paeons!” All we want is to be involved. To be treated like the professional adults we are. I suppose this whiff of pajama is gonna linger around all of us for a long damned time. But I gotta echo what Mitch Joel said (or so I read) about Trust Economy. That’s how you roll with the blogosphere. This whole thing about not participating but exploiting is getting old for me.

    Like I said, I know you’re exhausted, and I know you didn’t want to open your browser and catch hell about BCN I. But you’ve gotten some valuable feedback from the people who supported and promoted your gig for you.

    Energy Drain…..

    Yeah, it is an energy drain. It’s also a nice way to meet a lot of really cool people and find out a lot of really cool things. I hope now that you’ve gotten a break from BarCamp you get a chance to get more involved. You seem like someone who would be cool to have around on a regular basis.

  18. Fer the love of gawd, the Penelope Trunk thing at BlogHer wasnt about the “Brazen Careerist v. the mommy blogger”.

    If you want to know what happened there why dont you read the account of it at Lindsays blog, Im sure you know shes a fellow Nashvillian (totally unnecessary to link that “Mommyblogger” thing above) who was on the receiving end of Ms. Trunks, well, whatever that was.

    Or, Ill be happy to fill you in as I was there, too.

  19. I agree that most boomers will work till they die, probably due to the fact that most boomers aren’t boomers at all, but have inherited the traits and tendencies of their predecessors, the GI Generation. Most speakers have the issue of generational differences all wrong. It’s no wonder why marketing, advertising, sales, all that junk, is going down the toilet. Its not that the approach is wrong. The numbers are.

    Learn more about generational differences through the lens of traits and tendencies more so than that of age.

    http://www.generationalprofiles.com

  20. You’re not helping readers by telling them to read what Penelope Trunk has to say and live it. As I write in my blog, Is Penelope Drunk?, much of what Penelope says is good, but a good chunk is simply provocative and baseless. Click on my name or cut and paste this (http://ispenelopedrunk.blogspot.com) into your browser for more about Blogher and Penelope’s advice, which often requires her to elaborate, back peddle or deny — like she sppeared to do at Barcamp.

  21. @Katherine: thanks for weighing in with a point by point.
    @Busy Mom: I guess I wasn’t clear, I thought at BarCamp Nashville we might have gotten that kind of conversation going, not that it happended at BlogHer.
    @Tim: we are all results of the people that raised us. Please read the statement about generalizations in my post.
    @Sane Careerist: how do you give career advice in one hour and ten bullet points? I happen to think her ten points are right on the button, you don’t, Ain’t American Wunnerful?

  22. goinglike–I read your post to mean that everything she has to say is valid and should be followed. Perhaps I was mistaken–I didn’t realize you were only referring to those 10 points.

  23. No need to worry about the environmental drain from the bus, Kat. We offset the carbon footprint of the bus by turning off the A/C in the Exit/In.

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  25. I couldn’t understand some parts of this article mp Nashville Proved to Me That Xers and Yers Want Structure at Going Like Sixty, but I guess I just need to check some more resources regarding this, because it sounds interesting.

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